Growing up in Chicago, I learned to hate detours. With highways already jam-packed 24/7, a detour just meant another 2 hours out of the way, often in directions that felt like they were taking you further away from where you wanted to be rather that toward it. “Detour” was synonymous with “U-turn”.
So it should be no surprise that when my faith life has hit what I would deem a “detour”, my response would not be stellar. In fact, ever since becoming a Christian I feel like that is all I’ve ever encountered: one detour after another.
When I initially went off to college, I wanted one thing: to enter international politics and travel the world, maybe get an awesome diplomatic post someday or even run for high office.
I ended up going into ministry, having to raise my own support, and staying state-side.
Then I thought I would switch to nonprofit work, with opportunities to write and speak and travel.
I ended up continuing in ministry, heading back to the same place where I grew up and working on a campus that was very different from where I had been trained and which really stretched my abilities and limits.
Then I thought I would go into pastoral ministry, getting a degree at a Seminary of my choosing and jumping right into church work with a congregation I loved.
We were shipped off to St. Louis to attend a Seminary that, at the time, seemed like the exact opposite of what I had hoped for in a theological education.
In short, detours have come to characterize much of my faith life over the years. And, to be honest, I have not handled them with much grace. There have been countless times when I have been angry and wondered, “What are you doing God?! This isn’t what I signed up for!”
However, with the final months of Seminary wrapping up and my time to re-enter ministry drawing near, I decided to sit down and spend some time in the book of Proverbs. And what I’ve found there has been radically re-orienting my perspective when it comes to detours.
One of the constant comparisons that is drawn in the book of Proverbs is the difference between the foolish man and the wise man. A foolish leader, while he might have power or wealth, ultimately brings ruin to the people he leads because he lives under the false pretense that he has achieved much on his own power.
The wise person, on the other hand, fears and trusts God, and allows Lord’s commandments to order and shape the whole of his life. Such a person finds true and full life and is worthy of leadership because he has been tested and shaped by the ways of God. Such is a man worthy of being followed.
As I have read through these comparisons, I know the truth about the wise person. But if I’m honest with myself, I have to confess to envying and desiring the kind of life being led by the foolish person. It is easy to long for fame and wealth and power. I want money and an awesome house and comfortable living. I want people to make much of me.
But then I came across this passage:
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar. The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm…Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Proverbs 19:21-23 & 27)
As I read those words, I had this sudden feeling that God was using them to reveal my lack of faith and trust in Him. Do I really trust that His ways are better? Do I really trust His words when he says that riches and fame are fleeting and pale in comparison to the glory that is to come?
Honestly, on a day-to-day basis, the answer is, “No. I don’t.” Selfishly I want my treasures and accolades now.
And yet, perhaps this is the very reason God has taken me on so many “detours” in life. Over and over again, my plans for self-glory keep getting uprooted and overturned. But maybe that is the point. If I were to lead people while pursuing my own vainglory I would be a ruin to them. I would be just another fool in charge.
The so-called “detours” are God’s way of trying to show me that there is a different way to live. He is constantly at work pruning me, because He is trying to uproot what is evil and teach me what it truly means to be a servant leader. And all the while I’ve just been a stubborn pupil.
My time in Proverbs has been a wonderful season of self-reflection because it is teaching me to love the detours. It is showing me that God’s ways are better than any of the ones that I could have chosen for myself. I’ve come to see that ministry is worth it, that seeing lives transformed by the Gospel is far more exciting than any jet-setting. He used my time in Chicago to teach me about the beauty of multiethnicity and urban ministry. He has used my time in St. Louis to strengthen my faith, round out my theology, and give me an even clearer picture of the Gospel. And along the way I’ve made new friends, been led by great mentors, and grown not only as a minister, but as a husband and father.
Now, as we prepare to head back to the Chicagoland, I’m holding all of our plans with open hands. I’m excited to see where God’s detours might take us, because I’m beginning to see that they aren’t really detours at all. They are the path to life.